Monday, March 28, 2022

The Deadly Power of Racially Induced Stress

Asking Black people to remain calm and poised in the face of insulting, humiliating and provocative verbal attacks, the way Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson did when facing abusive questioning from Senators Hawley, Cruz, and so many others, is to ask them to take years off their lives! Race related stress is as much a killer as cancer or heart disease. It places a burden on our Black friends, colleagues and family members that we can do little to ease. Those who call for color blind policy and color blind law as if they were moral absolutes are completely insensitive to the realities of Black life in the United States. What just took place in the Senate exposes the cruelty of those who use Dr. King's language to promote a post racial vision of American life that ignores vast racial disparities in income, wealth, property ownership, life expectancy and lived experience. It also ignores the power of racial stereotypes that inhibit Black professionals from responding normally to acts of aggression lest they be stigmatized as an "angry Black person" and prevented from doing their jobs.

The Brave New World of Post Pandemic Teaching

I am not sure teaching will ever return to what it was before the Pandemic. Not only is the number of students immobilized by mental health issues far greater, but students are missing and coming late to classes in numbers that I would never have accepted three or four years ago. Clearly, a significant number of students, having become accustomed to ZOOM, feel more comfortable staying home than coming to class, and given the stress of commuting I am not sure I blame them! So what does a teacher do? In my case, it means I throw out deadlines and attendance requirements and do not penalize lateness, but make no compromise on the quality of work students have to turn in. To do this, I make all examinations take home exams, require students to take on challenging subjects, and insist they consult multiple sources to arrive at their conclusions. I give them flexibility in when they hand in assignments, but refuse to give students a grade unless they complete all work in the course, even if they submit it a month after the semester ends I can't say every student is happy with my approach. In some of my courses, it means they will write 50-60 pages worth of papers and exams and end up learning more than they ever expected or wanted to! But for the most part, they get through the course and produce excellent work, provided I am willing to overlook behavior that in the past I would have regarded as rude or unacceptable! Teaching has always been hard work. It's even harder now!

Friday, March 25, 2022

Should We Designate May 3, 2022 as "Banned Book Day" at Fordham?

As many of you know, school boards all over the country, sometimes prompted by the actions of state legislatures, have banned books dealing with racism or LBGTQ issues from use in the public schools. Some of them have even removed such books from public libraries As a protest against these actions, an organization I work with, Uniting to Save Our Schools, has designated May 1- May 7 2022 as a "National Week for Teaching Truth." Some of the ideas the group has discussed have been teach-ins, marches, school walk outs, video conferences, tik-tok videos and arts projects, but in thinking of how to gain mass participation, especially by students, I thought it might be useful to sponsor a "Banned Book Day" where everyone carries a book widely banned by school boards to school with them ( eg "Beloved" "The 1619 Project" "How to be an Anti-Racist") and poses for group and individual photos with the banned books and creates videos of their actions for posting on social media If people think this is a good idea, I would like to designate Tuesday May 3, the next to last day of classes, as "Banned Book Day At Fordham." Please send me an email or Facebook message, if you would like to participate

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

For Our Children's Protection, It's Time to Remove Needle Boxes from St Mary's Park- Guest Post By Carmen Santiago

Greetings All, Excuse the delay in sending this email, on this important matter. After numerous walk-through's of St Mary's Park; several Green Metal Disposal Towers still remain in our Park, and are themselves a safety, environmental, and health hazard. The disposal towers were installed by the prior administration(Mayor Deblasio, Bx Borough Pres Diaz Jr, Parks Dept, and some Unknown nonprofit needle program). I have found three(3) needle towers on the northern part of the park(E149 St & St Anns). I have yet to walk-through on the southern part of the park. We have open needles and orange caps littering our St Mary's Park, where families, children and our pets, gather and play. Even the wildlife is not safe, as they may swallow the orange caps and choke. Our small children may think the orange caps are a toy, put them in their mouth and choke. Our children play barefoot or with sandals, during the warm seasons, and can very easily, get jabbed with a needle. Who's going to picnic in our park, when there's needles and orange caps, all over the place? Why take a chance, with the safety of our children? Remove the green metal needle disposal towers from St. Mary's Park. Needles and orange caps on the grass, in the rocks, around the tree pits, on top of the snow, under the snow, or embedded in the soil. Mind you, all this is medical waste, and the last place it should be, is in our park. Why has Parks Dept created this unsafe condition to exist in our park, in the South Bronx? Why our park, why us? Why are we(The South Bronx), still the dumping ground for all things bad and ugly? Why install needle disposal towers, to invite drug addicts into our park? Our people are ill from drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness, how is all this helping them? It's not. It's one failed band aid program after another. We see the failed results in our streets, in the lost of dignity, hopelessness and despair of our people. The dumping ground for the forgotten. Who's going to keep the residents of the South Bronx safe, from Park's dept? Remove the green metal disposal towers, and keep our park clean. Our 33+ acres St Mary's park is Not a doctor's office, with some makeshift medical waste containers, strewn about. We have addicts shooting up(in partners), fighting, doped out, passed out on benches, the ground, rocks and lurking through the park, looking for cigarette butts, drug paraphernalia, or any coins they can find. Why are we sacrificed to normalize this behavior? There's nothing normal, about living like this, and exposing our children to this lifestyle. It makes us all complicit. The current formula(Mission Statements), of these non profit contracts is not working, and has not worked for decades. We are bleeding out(literally and figuratively). These programs(Mental health, Homelessness/Housing, and Drug addiction), are fragmented and work independent from each other. Why not cauterize these NYC agencies so they work together(share databases and cross share programs), for the complete holistic treatment of the whole human being. We are calling for All the green metal needle disposal towers to be immediately removed from St Mary's Park. It's especially easy now, since St Mary's is undergoing a phase 2 reconstruction project. The current General Contractor, can draft a change order on site, for Park's dept to approve, and said General Contractor can yank and remove the green metal needle disposal towers, and dispose of properly. Why spend millions(tax money), on park reconstruction projects, if people are not safe in their own park? I'll be sending pictures in a few emails, since they don't all fit into this one email. If anyone would like to contact me, to see the green metal needle disposal towers for yourself, up close, don't hesitate to call me at #504/485-8179. It's quite surreal when you see these needle towers, up close. Thank you for working together, in any assistance you can offer in resolving this important matter. I look forward to hearing from you. Carmen Santiago, Longtime South Bronx Resident(CB#1)

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Bronx African American History Project- A Short History

The Bronx African American History Project was founded in January 2003 as a partnership between Fordham’s Department of African and African American Studies and the Bronx County Historical Society. Its goal was to address the absence of source materials documenting the history of the more than 500,000 people of African descent in the Bronx. The Fordham scholars involved, Dr. Mark Naison and Dr. Claude Mangum, decided that the best contribution we could make was to start and Oral History Project, using the community contacts we had developed in more than 30- years teaching at Fordham. The response from Black Bronx residents we contacted was so enthusiastic that by Spring 2003, we were conducting more than two interviews a week. The Fordham Dean’s Office, seeing the potential of this research as a vehicle of instruction as well as a contribution to historical scholarship, provided us with four Fordham college research assistants to help film and transcribe the interviews. By the summer of 2003, several local newspapers had written articles about our research and the community response grew even greater. Literally scores of people began contacting us and asking for the opportunity to tell their stories. To advantage of this unique opportunity to give an underserved and often maligned community a voice, the Dean’s acceded to our request hire a young scholar as research director, and Fordham grad/ NYU Doctoral Student Brian Purnell joined us in that capacity With Brian on board, and additional student research assistants added, the BAAHP started doing 3 interviews a week and began developing a counter narrative of Bronx history that started to capture the imagination of Bronx schools and community organization. The people we interviewed, most of whom were senior citizens, told us stories which offered a profound challenge to the dominant narrative of Bronx history, which was that the Bronx was a beautiful place to live when it was Irish, Italian and Jewish, and that it fell prey to crime, and drugs and violence when Blacks and Puerto Ricans started to move in. In fact, our informants told us, the Bronx was a place of hope and optimism for upwardly mobile Black and Puerto Rican families from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1950’s, contained many vibrant integrated communities, and created more variety of popular music than any place in the country, if not the world during those years. They not only contributed stories, they contributed photos and documents which reinforced the accuracy of what they were telling us and they directed us to some of the musicians who made the communities they lived in such centers of cultural vitality. As a result, we hired a jazz scholar, Maxine Gordon (wife of the late jazz saxophone legend Dexter Gordon) as a research consultant and began organizing concerts to highlight the Bronx’s history of musical creativity. The new narrative of Bronx history coming out of our research, disseminated through newspaper accounts and through public events we organized, began to capture the imagination of leaders of Bronx non profit organizations and of teachers and administrators in Bronx schools who were looking for ways of counteracting the negative views of the Bronx that most people who lived in it possessed. As a result, we were invited to make presentations on our research to teachers and principals in Bronx schools, and subsequently, directly to Bronx students. By the beginning of 2006, when we had conducted over 100 oral history interviews, we had done lectures, walking tours and helped start community history projects in more than 20 Bronx schools, one of which actually created an “Old School Museum” to honor the history of the largely Black community in which it was located. As our students, faculty and research consultants travelled through Bronx neighborhoods doing programs for schools and community organizations, we noticed something striking—that there was a large and growing population of African immigrants in Bronx neighborhoods, many of whom were Muslim. To address this important migration, we hired as a research consultant, and later as a faculty member, Dr Jani Kani Edward, who had written a book on Sudanese women in exile and was an expert on the global African Disapora. Dr Edward quickly made connections with leaders of the African immigrant community and began doing oral histories with members of that important new group. By the end of 2000, our research now had a strong African immigrant component as well as an African American component. The excitement created by this research spread rapidly. As younger generations of Bronx residents approached us to be interviewed, we brought in a new faculty member to our Department, Dr Oneka Labennett, who started interviewing people who were part of the Hip Hop generation in the Bronx. This new component attracted the attention of scholars in Germany, who were studying the growing impact of Hip Hop on immigrants of color in their own country. Not only did several young German researchers join us as scholars in residence, they invited us to present the findings of our research to scholars and community groups in Berlin. These invitations led to the creation of the Bronx Berlin Youth Exchange, as well as to invitations to make presentations on our research in Spain and Italy As the BAAHP grew in size and vitality, it began to have a sizable impact on the cultural and intellectual life of the Fordham community. First of all, it gave many Fordham students exposure to ground breaking historical research as well as community activism. The student researchers we hired, as graduate assistants, as well as undergraduate researchers, had an opportunity to see history being rewritten first hand, not only by filming and transcribing oral history interviews, but by helping identify and archive historical documents. Many of these students wrote research papers based on their findings, some began writing MA theses and doctoral dissertations using our data base. Other faculty began directing their students to our oral history collection and the books and articles we published, so that the BAAHP’s research began directly influencing teaching about the Bronx in Fordham courses. Also, the BAAHP began to break through the barriers, both physical and metaphorical, separating the Bronx from surrounding Bronx communities. Not only have BAAHP interviews, concerts, lectures and forums brought literally thousands of Bronx residents and school groups onto Fordham’s Bronx campus, but the tours and events the BAAHP has organized in the Bronx have led Fordham students to get an exposure to Bronx neighborhood outside of Yankee Stadium, Arthur Avenue and the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. At a time when anti-racist efforts at Fordham have the highest priority, no organization has done more than the BAAHP to defuse stereotypes about the Bronx and to encourage Fordham students to see the Bronx as a place with an unmatched history of resilience and creativity Today, the BAAHP stands ready to work with everyone at Fordham working to create a closer relationship with the peoples and communities of the Bronx. and to create programs and initiatives which affirm Fordham’s character as a community where people of color, and other marginalized groups, feel honored and welcome.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The United States of Percussion- Changes in Music and Society in the Late 1960's Which Set The Stage for the Rise of Hip Hop

In the late 1960's, portions of American popular music underwent a sonic transformation that helped set the stage for the rise of hip hop. A combination of underlying factors ranging from changing US immigration laws, to the Black power movement, to the disrupting influence of the Vietnam War expanded the audience for music which had multiple levels of percussion, and where rhythm supplemented, and occasionally overpowered harmony and melody. One source of percussive energy was Latin Music, whose audience expanded as a result of a rapid growth in the LatinX population in response to dramatic changes in US immigration laws in 1965, which allowed for far more immigrants to come to the US from the Caribbean and South and Central America. Many of these immigrants came with traditions of hand drumming, of African derivation, which had largely been wiped out in the US, which they incorporated into every dimension of their music. This was particularly true of two genres of music which arose in New York City, where LatinX immigrants lived side by side with African Americans in large portions of the Bronx, as well as in portions of Harlem and Brooklyn- Bougaloo and Salsa. These musical forms, though their lyrics were often in Spanish ,were influenced by Rhythm and Blues and Soul Music, but with one difference- they had much deeper percussion sections, using three different varieties of hand drums, along with the traditional stick driven drum sets of rock, jazz and soul, often supplemented by clave and maracas. These new musical forms not only attracted a large audience among Spanish speaking people in US urban areas, they captured the imagination of many Black musicians, inspiring them to add hand drums to the rhythm sections they used in the recording studio as well as live performance as more percussion meant more dancing! Their influence also led to the rise of powerful "Latin Fusion" groups who combined Latin percussion traditions with funk and rock, among them Santana, War, Mandrill and the Jimmy Castor Bunch, the first which became popular in the late 60's, the latter three which rose to fame in the early 70's. But perhaps the most influential exponent of the percussive revolution in US Popular Music was James Brown, who in the late Sixties, created songs which eliminated melody entirely in favor of a music which turned voice, horns and guitar into percussion instruments in a tightly woven dance tracks performed by band which never missed a chance to get audiences screaming, shouting and dancing ecstatically. Brown, who called himself "Soul Brother Number One" became the symbol of the Black Power Revolution's impact on popular music, bringing African American music back to its African roots by making rhythm the primary form of musical communication. Many of his songs had only the most perfunctory lyrics- it was the horns and drums and guitar, along with Brown's shouts and inspired dancing, that were the source of their appeal Brown's popularity also set the stage for other great bands who took percussion to new heights, among them Sly and the Family Stone, the Isley Brothers, and in the early 70's, the Ohio Players, and Earth Wind and Fire. The music they produced was given the name of Funk, and one of the most popular groups of the 70's actually incorporated that in its name- Parliament Funkadelic This percussive revolution, it should be noted, did not become universal- many of the musical groups of the late 60's particularly those appealing to largely white audiences, either doubled down on harmony and melody, like Crosby Stills Nash and Young, or featured long guitar solos meant to be listened to rather than danced to, such as Led Zeppelin, But the Latin and Funk Revolution would carve out a permanent place in the American musical landscape, one only enhanced by the rise of Hip Hop in the 70's and 80's.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Do Our Students Think That The World Is Coming To An End?

As more and more of my students come to me with tales of illness and insomnia, asking for forbearance, and at times, for help and advice, I am starting to wonder whether a profound pessimism about the future contributes to their distress. Learning that the death of the brilliant Stanford soccer captain, a goalie on that school’s national championship team, was caused by suicide, only heightened my concerns On some profound level, do our brightest and most sensitive young people think the world is coming to an end, and that they have no future worth working for? The signs of doom are all around them- a deadly Pandemic that took much of the joy out of their lives, climate catastrophes that just keep mounting without the political will to deal with them, a toxic political environment filled with division and hate , and now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the very real threat of nuclear war. If a student confides in me, as one did yesterday, that they are crippled by insomnia, what am I supposed to tell them-that everything is going to be all right? Humanity is in deep trouble right now, and I would be lying if I told my students that I know a way out. I am not scared for myself- I have lived a much longer and more productive life than I ever expected to- but I am terrified for the kind, thoughtful, talented young people I work with every day. I try to be as strong and compassionate as I can in communicating with them, but I am very very worried that many of the issues they face are way out of my control, and that I can’t do all that much to help them

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Why Ukraine Inspires Me

When I was a 13 year old sophomore in a tough Brookyn high school, I was confronted in the locker room after gym class by six bigger older students who thought they could intimidate and humiliate me. While my my friends -mostly fellow honor students-ran away, they made a number of threatening and deprecating comments, ending with one of them saying “Tie my shoelace.” Having faced bullies all my life,I instinctively responded by saying “F..k you” and was knocked out cold. When I woke up, I immediately I went up to my home room and threw up, but I was ready to go back the next day and face them again. Unfortunately, my parents made me transfer to another high school out of the district where I spent the next 3 years, but I was proud that when tested, I stood up for myself against impossible odds! It set the tone for how I was going to live the rest of my life. Given this experience, you can see why I strongly support Ukraine in resisting a much more powerful country which seeks to control it, humiliate it and destroy its elected leadership. Ukraine is not only standing up for itself, it is standing up for every small country who hopes to maintain its independence, and for every individual who refuses to allow “might to become right.” When intimidation overwhelms morality and the rule of law, no one is secure. Moments when that starts to happen are when each of us must find the hero we all can become when our backs are against the wall